Primary Care in Rochester and Kasson

What is pancreatic cancer?

11/29/2021 by Stephanie Hansel, M.D.


Your pancreas is an organ that lies behind your stomach and releases enzymes that aid in digestion. Noncancerous and cancerous growths can occur in the pancreas. The most common cancer of the pancreas is pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma. 

What symptoms might indicate pancreatic cancer?

In the early stages of pancreatic cancer, patients often do not have symptoms. Some pancreatic cancers are found incidentally when imaging is completed to assess for other conditions. In the advanced stages of pancreatic cancer, patients may experience unintentional weight loss, loss of appetite, yellowing of the whites of eyes and skin, dark-colored urine, pale-colored stools, new diagnosis of diabetes or existing diabetes that is more difficult to control, blood clots, and fatigue. 

What tests are needed to diagnose pancreatic cancer?

A CT or MRI scan is often used to diagnose pancreatic cancer. A biopsy may be necessary to confirm this diagnosis. 

What is the treatment?

Treatment of pancreatic cancer depends on the stage and location of the cancer when it is found. Treatment options include surgery, radiation or chemotherapy, or a combination of these steps. 

What preventive steps can you take?

You can lower your risk of developing pancreatic cancer by modifying risk factors. Most important is to avoid or stop smoking. Other modifiable risk factors are maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, and avoiding or limiting alcohol intake. 

Stephanie Hansel, M.D., is a gastroenterologist at Mayo Clinic in Rochester. She completed her master's degree at North Dakota State University and her medical degree at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine & Health Sciences. Dr. Hansel completed an internal medicine residency at University of Nebraska Medical Center and a gastroenterology fellowship at Mayo Clinic in Arizona. Her interests include general gastroenterology, endoscopy and medical education.